Saturday, May 03, 2014

The Silence of God

It should have felt triumphant. I had stood there in the power and authority of the Lord, and seen the fire fall from heaven at my word! For a moment I had felt all-powerful, as though I walked above the earth as angels walk (though frightened also by the power of such fire as could burn the very water in the trenches). At my command the awed people had taken and slaughtered every last one of those pagan priests and prophets, and I felt the exaltation of victory. I saw the rains come to relieve the great drought, and, caught up in the exultant power of the Lord, I had run back, as fast as any horse, all the way to Jezreel.

But I was still flesh and blood, and as that extraordinary empowering withdrew from me, I was lost, feeble and alone. Only now, looking back, do I realise the depths of the temptation to power and glory, the temptation to demand the right to be something more than a humble and obedient servant of the Most High. Very quickly I learned that the power, courage and authority with which I had challenged, and defeated, the idolaters was not my own. When Jezebel responded to her defeat with threats against my own life, the only strength I found was the strength to run away as far as possible. Without the spectacular intervention of God, I was as weak and frail as the most vulnerable person in Israel. And so I fled.

I fled to Horeb. This was the place where God had constituted Israel, this was the place where Moses was confirmed in his leadership by some vision of the Lord Himself, the Lord whose face cannot be seen by any living man. Maybe history would repeat itself and I could become another Moses? After all, there had never been leaders of Israel who were more unfit than Ahab and Jezebel! But I was exhausted, drained and faint, and the fear of death had clouded my mind. Only the gift of food from an angel sustained me on that terrible journey. For forty days and forty nights I ran, into the heart of the wilderness, into the wilderness of my own pride and fear and desperate longings. And for forty days and forty nights, God was silent, and in that echoing silence I heard my own half-formed thoughts grow uncomfortably loud.

It was only when I came to the mountain that the Lord spoke, and asked me what I did there. Out of my mouth it poured, all my frustration with recalcitrant Israel (as if God had not been bearing with them far, far longer than I had!) God’s answer was strange. He bid me stand upon the mountain in His presence (as Moses did? I wondered. And my terror was magnified, for he unleashed before me all the powers of earth: wind, earthquake and fire (like the fire upon Mount Carmel). And in all that power and terror, again God was silent, and I knew then that these things of great power were not where the Lord reveals His presence, for after these things of terror had passed by, in the absolute quietness that followed, was the tiniest thread of a voice, the faintest whisper. And in that silence, that weakness and stillness, I knew the presence of the Lord of Lords and King of kings, and I trembled and covered my head. For He who is mightiest can empty Himself to nothing, and in that silent place is a mystery far more deep and wonderful than the power I had foolishly desired.

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